Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News: Federal stockpile of N95 masks was depleted under Obama and never restocked
by Emma Colton
The national shortage of N95 respirator masks can be traced back to 2009 after the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, when the Obama administration was advised to replenish a national stockpile but did not, according to reports from Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times.
The Trump administration is scrambling to replenish a stockpile of protective medical gear for healthcare workers and patients, as the coronavirus sweeps across the nation. N95 respirator masks are one of the most needed medical supplies amid the outbreak.
The George W. Bush administration published the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza plan in 2005, which called on the federal government to distribute medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile governed by the Health and Human Services Department in the event of an outbreak.
In 2009, the H1N1 outbreak hit the United States, leading to 274,304 hospitalizations, 12,469 deaths, and a depletion of N95 respirator masks.
A federally backed task force and a safety equipment organization both recommended to the Obama administration that the stockpile be replenished of the 100 million masks used after the H1N1 outbreak, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Association, said that advice was never heeded.
“Our association is unaware of any major effort to restore the stockpile to cover that drawdown,” he said.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar reported last month that only 12 million N95 masks were available in the stockpile, “a tiny fraction of the 3.5 billion masks one of Azar’s deputies later testified the nation’s healthcare system would need,” the Los Angeles Times noted.
Bloomberg News reported similar findings last week, noting, “after the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, which triggered a nationwide shortage of masks and caused a 2- to 3-year backlog orders for the N95 variety, the stockpile distributed about three-quarters of its inventory and didn’t build back the supply.”
Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration had asked construction companies to “donate their inventory of N95 masks to your local hospital and forgo additional orders of those industrial masks” and the Defense Department would provide 5 million N95 masks and 2,000 ventilators to help bridge the gap.
Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker reported 35,225 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of Monday.
Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the administration’s coronavirus task force, said on Sunday that a quarter-million people had been tested for the virus, with nine out of 10 people testing negative.
“The FDA is working with manufacturers around the company to come up with faster, more innovative tests,” he said.